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Bird-Dogging the New Hampshire Candidates

Former House speaker Newt Gingrich, a candidate for the Republican presidential nomination, with his wife, Callista, during a campaign stop at the Pinkerton Academy, in Derry, New Hampshire, January 8, 2012. (Photo: Marcus Yam / The New York Times) Driving in, you could almost mistake 2011's Manchester, New Hampshire, for 1811's Manchester, England. The Merrimack River's trash-laden banks host red brick factories, just beyond which sit row after row of identical red brick houses with identical red brick chimneys. Separating this industrial zone with its industrial residencies from the rest of the town, train tracks lie parallel to the river.

Driving in, you could almost mistake 2011's Manchester, New Hampshire, for 1811's Manchester, England. The Merrimack River's trash-laden banks host red brick factories, just beyond which sit row after row of identical red brick houses with identical red brick chimneys. Separating this industrial zone with its industrial residencies from the rest of the town, train tracks lie parallel to the river.

But this is capitalism after globalization, and the textile jobs that Granite Staters once worked in these factories have long since gone to countries the labor and environmental protections of which are so poor America can't compete without major domestic degradation of the same. New inhabitants of the Merrimack's banks include Texas Instruments; Northeast Delta Dental Stadium; and DEKA, the tech and engineering company founded by Dean Kamen, inventor of the Segway and the portable dialysis machine, who bought the old mill cheaply with federal urban renewal funds.

So informs my guide, unemployed tech worker Peter MacLellan, who, a career ago, owned MacLellan News Agency. Spending public cash on corporate ventures is as much a trend here in Manchester as anywhere else, the Verizon Wireless Arena having been built on city funds allocated by referendum. Says MacLellan, “That doesn't make the city money either, but at least we voted for it.”

Voting is about all New Hampshire gets attention for in the other 49 states – specifically its primary, the first in the nation, which is set to take place on Tuesday. Candidates' placards line medians and lawns on this side of the railroad tracks – “Romney – Believe in America” and “Newt 2012 – Rebuilding the America We Love.” These constitute an 11th-hour effort on behalf of a field of candidates who showed up to campaign in New Hampshire so much later than usual that MacLellan is moved to remark, “I don't remember a primary season this lame. Ever.”

The narrative of this primary season has been about successive candidates vying for the title of “anti-Romney,” the former Massachusetts governor engendering so little enthusiasm among the base that he has recently deployed John McCain as his “passion maker.” Each candidate has in turn crashed and burned for one reason or another – revelations of infidelity or a history of white supremacy, for example. But the narrative of this larger political moment is one of disillusionment with politicians altogether, the Obama era having produced little change.

But it hasn't totally eroded hope here in Manchester. The Occupy New Hampshire encampment at Veteran's Memorial Park, across the street from the Radisson Hotel where all the major media outlets have erected ad hoc television studios, knows that the state's Constitution provides a solution for moments like these, when citizens have lost control over their government. Article 10 is displayed proudly on a placard:

“Government being instituted for the common benefit, protection, and security, of the whole community, and not for the private interest or emolument of any one man, family, or class of men; therefore, whenever the ends of government are perverted, and public liberty manifestly endangered, and all other means of redress are ineffectual, the people may, and of right ought to reform the old, or establish a new government. The doctrine of nonresistance against arbitrary power, and oppression, is absurd, slavish, and destructive of the good and happiness of mankind.”

Declining absurdity and slavishness and determined to be good and happy, the occupiers here have adopted “bird-dogging” as the primary instrument in their doctrine of resistance. The reference is lost on a native of New York City like me, but I gather that hunters release dogs to scare birds into flight, the better to shoot them in the open air. That exposure in the service of destruction is wrought by protesters, who seek out candidates and ask them confrontational questions designed to expose the unsavory positions candidates take and unseemly histories they harbor. The birds in the metaphor are the candidates' political hopes, the dogs are the occupiers and the hunters are the voters. Pull!

According to American Friends Service Committee's “TIPS for BIRD-DOGS,” “Being a bird-dog is not just about asking questions. Street theater, or even a simple picket sign, can raise public and candidate awareness on key issues. These tactics are especially helpful at events where you are prevented from entering or if you are well known to the candidate or his/her staff.”

It may sound innocuous enough, but confronting candidates can turn into bloody business, as it did on Saturday, according to Mark Provost, an economic journalist whose bird-dogging of Mitt Romney on the topic of corporate personhood made waves on the Internet recently. (Full disclosure: Provost has written for Truthout in the past.)

According to Provost, “We showed up at this Gingrich event; there were maybe 10 of us, total. We were outside with the 'Get money out of politics' sign, and I had a drum. We were just drumming and chanting, and an occupier was using two hands to hold open the window at the side of the restaurant, so my drumming could be heard inside. One of Newt Gingrich's supporters, who looked and acted as though he might even have been a staffer, started just punching the guys hands. He was swinging wildly and missing and hitting the guy's arms a bunch, but he was connecting on his hands with full-blown swings. The occupier had gloves on, but his hands were bloodied. It was video-taped, I think by several people. I was twelve inches from this incident. It was wild. I went to tell the police, but they didn't really care, so I had to call their captain to come down and check it out. But the guy didn't want to press charges, because he was afraid of being charged with disorderly conduct himself. I thought it was a media coup; you potentially have a Newt Gingrich staffer assaulting an occupier.”

New Hampshire Republicans have a few days left to determine which wealthy, white, Christian man they wish to receive the 13 RNC delegates on offer. New Hampshire Democrats will nominate Barack Obama, but there are 13 challengers on the ballot, including Aldous C. Tyler, “A Madison, Wis., resident” whose “name will appear on the ballot” despite the fact that “he announced Dec. 16 that he could no longer continue his presidential run. It was too late to remove his name from the ballot,” according to the Union Leader. Other Democratic challengers include people whose legal names are Craig “Tax Freeze” Freis and Vermin Supreme. The latter is described thus by the Union Leader:

“On a campaign website, Supreme points out he is the only candidate who supports fully funding time-travel research, to acquire the ability to ravel back in time and kill Hitler before he was born. He would also like to make brushing one's teeth mandatory, saying in a dental manifesto, 'Proper dental hygiene is essential to proper social order.'”

Let no one claim Ron Paul is the only candidate bucking party orthodoxy.

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